It was deja vu for Roger Federer as his return to Roland Garros ended in another clay-court defeat to Rafael Nadal.
The 39th meeting between the two men was played in exceptionally windy conditions, with Nadal handling them better to claim a 6-3 6-4 6-2 victory and reach a 12th final.
It was the first time the pair had met at the French Open since 2011 but this match went the same way as their other previous five.
Federer insisted he was looking forward to the challenge after deciding earlier this year to return to a tournament he had not played since 2015.
The 37-year-old had turned the momentum of their rivalry around with five straight wins, all on hard courts, and had been in fine form this tournament, but this would quickly have felt familiar.
Not that any of their previous encounters were in conditions quite like this because while the threatened rain held off, the wind sent the ball swirling off course off both men’s rackets and whipped the clay into their eyes.
“You get to a point where you’re just happy to make shots and not look ridiculous,” said Federer. “It’s that bad.
“But it was windy for both. He was better, no doubt about it. I had maybe mini
chances today but they were not big enough to win.”
The second set was central to Federer’s hopes. His tactic of drop-shotting into the wind was an effective one, and he broke serve to lead 2-0 only for Nadal to immediately break back.
Nadal then broke his opponent again from 40-0 in the ninth game before serving out for a two-sets-to-love lead.
Federer received a warning for ball abuse when he angrily smashed one into the crowd after being broken again in the third game of the third set, and from there the end was swift.
Despite the disappointment, Federer rated his return to Roland Garros as a success, saying: “I thought it was a great tournament. I really enjoyed it.
“The crowd support couldn’t have been better. Maybe one of the best ever in my entire 20-year career that I have been on tour at a slam.
“In terms of playing, I think I played really well. I think I surprised myself maybe how deep I got in this tournament.”
Asked if he would be back next year, the 37-year-old, who left the court to a chorus of ‘Roger, Roger’, added: “Just like with any other tournament, I don’t know. We’ll see what happens.
“But I definitely enjoyed the clay-court season and the French Open, so that
would help the chances, I guess. It’s not like it’s been a shocker.”
Nadal improved his record against the Swiss to 24 wins and 15 losses and will face either Novak Djokovic or Dominic Thiem as he chases an 18th grand-slam title.
“The conditions out there today have been so hard, so difficult to manage.,” he said. “It was the day to just focus, accept all the adversities, and just be focused on the positive all the time. That’s what I tried to do.”
Of his rivalry with Federer, the Spaniard, who has never lost a semi-final or final here, added: “I hope we will both have more years to come and a great future ahead of us. Of course, we won’t be here in 10 years’ time.
“I have won a very important victory in my eyes. For the tournament and for Federer, the fact that Federer is back on clay and competitive again, it’s something important. And I think that he will go away with good sensations because he fought very well to win Roland Garros.”
Djokovic and Thiem will have to come back on Saturday to complete their match after rain forced an early end to play.
If anything, the wind was even stronger, with Djokovic particularly unsettled by it.
He asked to speak to supervisor Andreas Egli after going two breaks down in the opening set but his claims the conditions were unplayable fell on deaf ears.
After Thiem finished off the opening set, Djokovic then hit back to level after a brief rain delay but had just gone a break down in the third to trail 6-2 3-6 3-1 when the rain returned.
Just before 6.30pm, play was bizarrely called off for the day despite Philippe Chatrier being bathed in sunshine.
The decision looked even more strange when, more than an hour after play had been called off, it still was not raining, although the weather did deteriorate again after that.
Djokovic and Thiem will resume their contest at midday on Saturday, three hours before the women’s final.